How splitboarding is breaking new ground

A film fromHuck Presents
Wandering celebrates splitboarding and ski touring, which allow humans to go beyond the resorts, to slow down and connect with self, one-another and nature.

Wandering, to travel aimlessly from place to place. That is the Oxford Dictionary definition of the term that myself and fellow snowboarder Lesley McKenna use daily, but we don’t define it quite like that. There is an aim to the wandering we do, and the places we go are notable and planned. We live in Aviemore in the Highlands of Scotland, with the Cairngorm Mountains on our doorstep. In the winter, we spend as much time as possible in the snow, touring up our local hills on our splitboards, a mode of transport and recreation that gained popularity over lockdown and has given a new snow outlet to many original snowboarders, including myself. Splitboarding allows us to access the hills away from resorts, infrastructure or lifts. We can head into the sidecountry or the backcountry to do the one thing we love more than anything, powder turn, slash or carve on our snowboards.

But it is more than that, as Lesley puts it, “I see the backcountry experience as a way to have a very personal experience with nature, of a deep connection with it and the people I am out with.” We don’t believe splitboarding is an individual pursuit of snow, it is a conscious, considered and connected experience, one that we get so much from, which is how this all came about.

The act of touring slows us down, providing us with space and time. The greatest gift as a creative, it is a currency to create. Throughout the seasons, as me and Lesley skin uphill on our splitboards on our local hills here, we conjure ideas, with the fresh crisp Scottish air encouraging the flow. The uphill can sometimes last for hours, giving us the space to devise film ideas, collaborations and concepts, whilst we follow our routes and spy our line down. At the top of the hill, we strip off our skins like selkies and build snowboards to ride down the mountain. During that time there is no thought for the ideas but the blank space propels us into action as we return to the base euphoric because the snow was so good. Or thankful that we made it down in one piece – the Scottish snow way.

“Splitboarding gives more depth to the adventure.”

Jenny Jones

During a tour in Sgor Gaoith, a few seasons back was where Wandering came to us in a lightbulb moment. We have always been conscious of the barriers to trying splitboarding or ski touring. Whether financial, physical or mental barriers, we wanted to break them down for more people to try. This has always been the mission of my work as a filmmaker and photographer and for Lesley as an athlete and leader. Our forces combined resulted in Wandering Workshops, a Cairngorms-based community interest group which provides a way for underrepresented groups to get out touring and a more mindful way to head into the snowy backcountry. We have run for three seasons now, with a variety of people locally or around the UK. This is our grassroots effort and our way of giving back locally. Our philosophy for Wandering Workshops is beyond simply the act of splitboard or ski touring, but to use the activity to connect with self, each other and the land as we go.

Whilst we love the local side of what we do with Wandering Workshops, we always have ideas that go beyond our doorstep. Back in 2004, Lesley was the first to produce feature-length all-female snowboarding films under the name ChunkyKnit Productions. As a nod to those, we wanted to make a Wandering short film. We feel the connection to self and others through splitboarding runs across our global community, especially from our female gaze and perspective and so we reached out to riders across the world to contribute.

“Splitboarding gives more depth to the adventure,”says Jenny Jones, backing us up. She is one of eleven riders who got involved to support the Wandering philosophy and the wider message of Protect Our Winters. In the short piece, we take to local trails around the world thanks to the generous support of multiple snow cinematographers. Following Melissa Brandner’s lines in Lofoten, Lena Stoffel as she tours near her home in Innsbruck, Chloe Silliers and her dog near le Grand Bornand, and Lesley McKenna riding down the ridge of Coire Raibert in the Scottish Highlands. Other riders include Aline Bock, Lisa Filzmoser, Jenny Jones, Corinne Mayheus, Lesley McKenna, Kristiina Nisula and Anne Flore Marxer.

We had the pleasure of checking out all their adventures, which mostly took place over lockdown, whilst we sat in the edit suite in Aviemore during a rainy September with filmmaker Rach Sarah who we got involved to help us compile it and work her magic. We wanted the short documentary to capture these feelings and ideas about what splitboarding means to us. Many of the riders involved have had wild careers in competitive snowboarding, Lesley included. Many of them are Olympians like her. “Ski touring is like meditation,” Lena Stoffel mulls over. The opposite of competitive. Lena’s meditative feelings are backed up by Kjersti Buaas too: “It’s like time becomes still.” And Lisa Fitzmoser agrees: “It is really nice to feel the calm in myself and the calm in the snow.”

Putting together this film was about communicating the wandering mindset through the global snow community. Traditionally snowboard films would run in rider segments, but for us, it was about combining everyone and their adventures inspired by the group mentality of touring. But at heart we are snowboarders and we decided to nod to that through the music we used. We were really lucky to get to collaborate with singer, and songwriter Santigold and her latest album Spirituals. This album was a lockdown project for her, as Wandering has been for us. Her music is synonymous with snowboarding: ‘Disparate Youth’ was the beat for Nicholas Muller’s part in Absinthe’s Resonance, ‘I’m A Lady’ was in Neverland and ‘The Keepers’ was the chosen track for Torstein’s part in Must Be Nice. Santi was excited to collaborate on Wandering to support the ladies’ splitboarding community and what we stand for.

Santigold’s album Spirituals is inspired by African American folk songs, and so we complemented the sound with a local Scottish folk singer, Jenny Sturgeon’s song about the Cairngorms, ‘The Plateau,’ which opens the film. It was a nod to where Wandering all began for us, on the Cairngorms Plateau. The film exists to spread the Wandering philosophy, but it also nods to the creativity and vibrance of splitboarding and what it brings to our lives.

Last, but not least, it is in honour of Protect Our Winters, the outdoor community charity that aims to influence climate policy. Splitboarding is human-powered and gives us the time to connect with nature, so it puts us in a great place to be part of protecting it. Protect Our Winters brings us together to understand and unite our powers as a community, to together, take action to protect what we love. The film, like life, is short, but hopefully, you slow down and appreciate every moment of it.

Find out more about Protect Our Winters and Wandering Workshops.

Wandering is a film by Hannah Bailey, Lesley McKenna and Rachel Sarah.

Huck Presents is our brand new stream to celebrate films we love and champion emerging filmmakers we admire. If you would like your film featured, get in touch.

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Issue 80: The Ziwe issue